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A Learning Adventure in Costa Rica

A Learning Adventure in Costa Rica

Director of Counseling and Theology Teacher Cynthia Willmen, L.P.C. started nearly every morning with “Another beautiful day in Costa Rica!” during an educational trip this past March supported by the John P. ’59 and Anne Duffy Faculty Travel Award Fund.

Cynthia and Director of Health Services Colleen Cook, R.N. ’02 proposed the journey to Costa Rica so they could experience and learn about local holistic and herbal medicine practices. While both have been trained in effective traditional medicine and Western psychological practices, they felt that gaining knowledge about holistic and alternative options would enhance their ability to provide students with even more tools and ideas for growth, development, wellness, and joy.

Upon arrival, they first noticed the all-encompassing energy of Pura Vida, literally translated to “Pure Life,” a lifestyle and embodiment of inner peace that places high value on finding joy in life’s simplest pleasures. It was everywhere! 

“We knew going in that people traveled to Costa Rica for wellness retreats, and it was a big part of their culture,” Colleen said. “What we did not expect was the enduring sense of Pura Vida reminding you to be always present in the moment and connected to what is around you.”

Immersed in such a relaxed, calming environment, Colleen and Cynthia engaged in activities to help them better understand the concepts of holistic medicine and healing, including:

  • An herbal medicine workshop at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge in Peñas Blancas La Fortuna

  • An organic farm tour of Finca Paraiso Organico in La Fortuna de San Carlos

  • A workshop on the benefits of sound healing at Arboressence Studio in the heart of the Monteverde forests

“We made tinctures in the herbal medicine class,” Colleen said of the concentrated liquid extracts made from plants and used as herbal medicine. “We brought them back to display in the Health Center, so students can see them and ask questions. We also learned about different herbal medicines and how they are not only good for physical health but mental health as well.”

The colleagues also enjoyed other aspects of the Costa Rican culture and landscape, such as hanging bridges in Selvatura Park, guided tours of local landmarks, a cooking class, kayaking and rafting, and numerous encounters with sloths in their natural habitat. But they stayed focused throughout on the primary goal of their visit—to learn, absorb, and discover new ways to enhance health and healing back at Canterbury. 

Cynthia shared additional plans she and Colleen have for bringing their Costa Rica experience to students. “For weekend activities, we might have a ‘make your own tincture’ activity, bring in someone to do yoga, or even present a session on sound healing—alternate ways of introducing new healing methods to the community that we might not have thought about before.”

The concept of sound healing was new to Colleen. “I had never experienced it,” she said. “Sound healing is the understanding that our bodies emit energy that is responding to the energy in the world. So the idea is to use bowls to create vibrations and sounds that help you connect to that energy and center and reset things that might be a little ‘off’ within yourself. I brought Tibetan singing bowls into my office, and the students are quite interested in them.”

Established by John P. ’59 and Anne Duffy P ’87, ’91, the Faculty Travel Award has funded faculty development trips annually since its inception in 1996. It was founded on the conviction that, in a shrinking world, intercultural experiences for educators enhance not only the individuals fortunate enough to receive the award but also their students.

After returning home, Cynthia quickly expressed her appreciation to the Duffys for their generosity. “Without their support, our trip never would have happened,” she said. “The Duffys have always believed in Canterbury and the importance of travel for faculty growth both in the classroom and personally. Our journey to Costa Rica was a life-altering experience, and for that, I am extremely thankful.”